Friday, 22 July 2011

EU legal package on standardisation: some aspects discussed in depth (I): The global nature of fora/consortia

On June 1 the European Commission adopted its legal package on European Standardisation with two major documents: The Commission Communication “A strategic vision for European standards: Moving forward to enhance and accelerate the sustainable growth of the European economy by 2020” (COM(2011)311) and the draft Regulation on “European Standardisation” (COM(2011)315). I blogged about this right after the adoption when the documents were available.

Since then the documents have been widely read and public comments are made and the documents are debated. With this post I am starting a series on discussing some aspects a bit more in depth that are raised in public discourse – or at least add some thoughts to points that are raised and discussed. So here's part one – on

The global nature of fora/consortia

The draft Regulation adopted by the Commission introduces a process for allowing the recognition of ICT standards from fora/consortia so that they can be directly referenced in public procurement and in EU policies. They need, however, need to meet the condition of being assessed against a set of quality criteria listed in Annex II of the draft Regulation.

While the need for this complementary change to the European standardisation system is widely accepted because it takes into consideration the global realities in ICT standardisation, there are some who spread a good deal of FUD regarding fora/consortia. The strongest piece of bad mouthing is probably the claim that fora/consortia were US-based and US-dominated and would operate in competition to the European Standards Organisations (ESOs). Therefore, recognising the ICT standards from fora/consortia would solely benefit US interests, say those "spreaders of FUD".

To be very frank: this is total nonsense, and people who spread this either deliberately wish to create bad feelings against fora/consortia or at best simply repeat what others said without checking the facts. And they seem to be at a total loss to imagine what a global organisation is and how it works. Different from other sectors, standardisation in the ICT sector evolved on a global basis with new global organisations establishing as the leading ICT standards development organisations. Prominent examples are the IETF, W3C or OASIS. These bodies operate in very open and transparent ways with a broad membership from all geographies and encompassing all stakeholders including public authorities, academia, SMEs and large, multinational companies.

Europe has a strong voice in global industry fora and consortia regardless of where these organisations are registered legally. And Europe has all potential to further build on this strength. In the following I put together some facts taken from the information publicly available on the organisations' web sites:

W3C was founded in 1994 by an Englishman, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, in collaboration with CERN, the European research lab. In April 1995, INRIA (Institut National de Recherche en Informatique et Automatique) in France became the first European W3C host and in 2003, ERCIM (European Research Consortium in Informatics and Mathematics), also based in France, took over the role of European W3C host from INRIA. Today, W3C has 326 Members, 40% of which are European. Government participation is also strong, and it could be increased – a development that is very much desired by W3C and its members.

Or looking at OASIS, both, the current Director-General of OASIS and the current chair of the OASIS Board of Directors are of European origin. More Europeans are among the members of the Board of Directors. Regarding the representation of stakeholder groups in OASIS, roughly 32% are SMEs and 28% are administrations and academia. So the three combined are even a clear majority of organisational participants. In addition, OASIS allows individual membership and an individual's vote on OASIS standards is worth that of an organisation. As far as geographic distribution of OASIS members is concerned 30% are European, 15% are from Asia Pacific, the rest are from the Americas.

Furthermore, looking at the IETF (Interent Engineering Task Force), it's chair of the Architecture Board is European and also an SME. And looking at IEEE, by 2010 the organisation had over 395,000 members from 160 countries. These are just some examples that powerfully illustrate the global nature of fora/consortia and leadership role Europe is taking in some of the relevant global ICT fora and consortia.

So bottom line: these leading ICT fora/consortia have all rights to claim that they are genuinely global organisations with global membership as well as a broad scope of stakeholders amongst the members, including industry – both large, small and “micro” –, academia, governments, users, etc. Let's hope that such facts help to discredit the statements that are made against fora/consortia as what they actually are: attempts to put a negative flag on successful global organisations. 

And besides: the processes in place in these fora/consortia are exemplary in terms of openness and transparency - e.g. allowing everyone around the globe to follow the work and provide comments regardless of whether people are a member of the organisation or not. This is standards bodies governance at its best.

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